Gallipoli to Jerusalem – Geo-politics or God’s Sovereignty?
Like most Australians and New Zealanders, I was nurtured on the ANZAC/Gallipoli narrative, albeit a somewhat parochial ANZAC one. As an ordinary Australian, what else did I really need to hear anyway? After all, Gallipoli was our affair (as too was Beersheba), so why share it with the British or anyone else?
Yet even as a young boy of six to seven, there was a deep-seated desire to understand more, to know why my relatives fought (and died) in the Middle East, and to understand why Australians were even in that region.
Three events added to this boyhood inquisitiveness. Firstly, an Israeli family came to live on a local farm at remote Babakin in Western Australia, leading me then to become familiar with the nation of Israel. Secondly, at about the age of ten I read about Hitler’s final solution to the Jewish problem – and the resulting Holocaust. Thirdly, in June 1967 my father made a comment about the importance of the Six Day War (Dad, who fought with the 2/48th Battalion, rarely commented about war).
Thus by the age of about twelve, that inquisitiveness had grown to the point where I really wanted answers to those aforementioned questions. Then, during my late teen years when it became apparent I would not be a cricket or football star, I began seeking answers for the actual meaning of life as well. Deep down there was a sense that the answers to all these questions would be found in Israel.
This quest saw me depart Australia for Europe as a twenty-one year old in 1978, with the ultimate aim of going to Israel. Answers began coming following my arrival in Israel in 1979. As an Australian, I was afforded warm treatment on the kibbutz (collective farm) due to the fond memories many Jewish people had of the ANZAC soldiers during the years 1940-1943.
My fondness of Israel and Israelis resulted in me contemplating becoming an Israeli and serving in the Israeli Army. To achieve this I would need to convert to Judaism, a matter which I initially considered, until realising it had quite a bit to do with religion – causing a hasty retreat from the idea!
It was at this point that I heard for the first time about Jesus being a Jew – a revelation which resulted in me finally confessing faith and becoming one in covenant with Jesus in July 1981, while briefly in the UK.
Thereafter I lived in Jerusalem, involved in various forms of work, especially as an orderly in hospitals and assisting both Jewish and Arab patients. Life changed quite dramatically following my marriage in 1984, when we began attending Christ Church, an evangelical Anglican church inside the Old City of Jerusalem. Little did I know it at the time, but this location held the ‘secret’ to those remaining childhood questions I had.
This location was the actual beginning point of Protestant, British and western activities in Jerusalem and in the land of Israel. My interest was piqued, and by 1986 I was asked to become the guide and historian at this strategic location just inside Jaffa Gate.
During that period hundreds of people would visit daily, many of whom were Israeli academic groups. The Israelis well understood the historical importance of the place and it was imperative that I quickly came to understand this significance so as to communicate this information to such visiting groups.
This necessity resulted in countless hours of research and study, majoring upon the period 1798-1948; research and study which in turn permitted me to better understand the much bigger ‘geo-political’ picture. This research and study also enabled me to develop the In Step with Allenby and the Light Horse tours in 1988, an initiative which had much to do with the re-enactment of the Charge at Beersheba events held in Beersheba in 2007 and 2012.
The beginning point of Britain’s modern day interest in the region of Israel and Egypt began in 1798. In that year Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt in an effort to cut Britain off from India, which then was the pearl of Britain’s empire. The British quickly responded by dispatching Admiral Nelson to crush this French initiative.
Thereafter Britain viewed each and every event in the Eastern Mediterranean with interest and concern, especially as its eastern empire continued to expand, an expansion which included Australia and New Zealand. Britain’s obsession with the Eastern Mediterranean led her to take control over the Suez Canal in 1875 – the Canal having been constructed by the French in 1869.
Also during the nineteenth century many Christians, participants in the evangelical awakening of that period, began to proclaim that according to their understanding of the Bible, national Israel would one day be restored to its ancient homeland, a belief system based on the promises given to the patriarchs by a covenant oath.
Then towards the latter part of the century Jewish people began fleeing from nationalist inspired persecution in Czarist Russia. Some came to the land of Israel believing they were laying the foundations for a future Jewish national entity in the land of their forefathers. Such a realisation, however, would depend upon the defeat of the Islamic Turkish Empire and the conquest of the land of Israel by a power sympathetic to these Jewish aspirations.
Such a scenario was quite unrealistic until August 1914. The nation best positioned to do this was Britain, but Britain had, through most of the period after 1798, been allied with Turkey.
Significance of Gallipoli
The scenario changed when Turkey joined with the Central Powers (Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire), against Britain, France and Russia in the First World War. This geo-political and military situation within the Turkish Empire became further complicated in late 1914 when Russia, which was battling desperately against the opposing armies, urgently requested assistance from her allies, Britain and France.
Britain and France then planned a naval assault upon the Dardanelles Peninsula in Turkey in order to get supplies through to their Russian ally, an attack which began in February 1915. While the naval assault was taking place, the Russian Government, in March 1915, informed the British and French governments that once Turkey was defeated, the strategic areas of the Dardanelles, Sea of Marmara, Bosphorus, Thrace and Constantinople were to be handed over to them and would be incorporated into the Russian Empire.
From a historical and geo-political perspective this was an understandable request. This Russian demand, though, forced Britain to consider its strategic objectives in a defeated and dismembered Turkish empire. As France had always coveted the province of Syria – which included Palestine (the land of Israel) – Britain needed to determine which areas it would need in order to safeguard its imperial interests further east.
At this point Britain realised that if Russia controlled the Dardanelles and if France held Syria, then these two potential future rivals could effectively threaten the Suez Canal – her link to her eastern empire of India, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.
Soon afterwards, Britain decided that it could never allow a political situation to develop which could threaten the Suez Canal. The region east of the Suez now became strategically more significant – an area which they could not afford France to control. The problem, though, was that neither France nor indeed any other Allied power would ever permit Protestant Britain control over the ‘Holy Land’.
In such an equation, the question facing Britain was: ‘How could they ensure some form of control over the land of Israel?’
The ANZAC horsemen, Beersheba and the Balfour Declaration
Ultimately the Gallipoli campaign was a military failure and the Allied troops were brought back to Egypt, most for future deployment to France. Simultaneously some of the Turkish forces from Gallipoli were also dispatched to the Sinai in anticipation of capturing the Suez Canal.
The British high command then sent some of these Allied soldiers – British infantry and cavalry and a large mounted force of Australian Light Horse and New Zealand Mounted Rifles – to defend the Suez Canal on the Sinai side. Following victory over the attacking Turkish force at Romani in August 1916 these men began moving slowly towards Palestine.
Later that year a new government took control in Britain, led by Prime Minister David Lloyd George, which was firmly resolved to defeat the Turks in the entire province of Syria and thereby secure a political future for that region in line with Britain’s geo-political interests. By the middle of 1917, they realized there was only one stable political force which could effectively develop the land of Israel under British custodianship and this was the Zionist Organisation.
On 31 October 1917, British infantry and the ANZAC horsemen won a resounding victory at Beersheba, the first victory in the land, aided by a gallant charge of the Australian Light Horse.
At about the same time as the final surge to victory at Beersheba, the members of the British War Cabinet in London agreed to a proposal from the Zionist Organisation to establish a Jewish National Home in Palestine. This promise later became known as the Balfour Declaration.
The road which had begun at Gallipoli had now led to Beersheba, and then shortly afterwards led onwards to Jerusalem which was captured on 9 December 1917. Two days later, General Allenby entered through Jaffa Gate for the official surrender ceremony. The famous photographs of that occasion were all taken from the roofs of various buildings belonging to Christ Church – (where I had worked for some twenty years!)
A sympathetic power had conquered the land from the Muslim Turkish Empire; the Jewish people were ready to return; British and ANZAC soldiers had played a part in the military victory; and behind the scenes ordinary Christians all over the world were praying for and working towards such a restoration.
Indeed in many ways, the road which led to Jerusalem began at Gallipoli. This is the hidden significance of Gallipoli. In such a scenario, Gallipoli was not entirely a defeat, but was a very significant step which led ultimately to the granting of a mandate by the League of Nations for the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. Such a mandate provided a foundation to which hundreds of thousands of persecuted Jewish people ultimately fled to in the following decades.
Additionally, tens if not hundreds of thousands of innocent people from the minority groups were saved from genocide by the defeat of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. By the end of the War up to 1.8 million Christians (mostly Armenians) had been systematically killed by the Ottoman regime. The defeat of that regime also permitted, in time, the establishment of the sovereign nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia as well as Israel.
Sons of the ANZACs
During the Second World War, ANZAC soldiers again found themselves in the position of saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. In 1942 the Nazi leadership dispatched a special murder squad to the region named the Einsatzgruppen Egypt, whose grizzly task was to annihilate some 70,000 Jewish people in Egypt, 500,000 Jewish people in Palestine as well as over 100,000 Jewish people living in Syria and Iraq.
Thanks to the victory at El Alamein this plan was thwarted.
Thereafter, although the Jewish people themselves had to struggle to make good the promises of the British government, the League of Nations and the United Nations, they were able to ultimately establish a sovereign Jewish state in the land of Israel on 14 May 1948.
Soldiers from Australia and New Zealand played a significant role in helping to bring about this reality. This is a ‘hidden’ connection which our two nations should be aware of. This perspective should also enable us as Christians to better understand the covenant keeping nature of our God, and of his ultimate sovereignty in history and geography.
© Kelvin Crombie. PO Box 565, Mundaring 6073, WA. [email protected]
The writer has authored numerous historical books including Anzacs, Empires and Israel’s Restoration 1798-1948; Anzacs & Israel – A Significant Connection; Journey to Beersheba; El Alamein: Halting an Impending Holocaust in the Middle East and Gallipoli – The Road to Jerusalem,(which is also the title of a DVD). He pioneered the In Step with Allenby and the Light Horse tours in Israel, guiding Australian government, military and trade delegations and was the guide for the 90th anniversary tour of the charge at Beersheba in 2007 and the 95th anniversary in 2012.
For any interested further in the history of this time we have been sent a link showing a Newsreel item on the entry of General Allenby into Jerusalem and the reading of his proclamation, Palestine, 11 December 1917 http://www.colonialfilm.org.uk/node/6131